HOPE — All the event’s characters were ready. All except Mother Nature.
As Hope’s annual Christmas of Yesteryear prepared to unfold its holiday sentiment early evening Friday, the weather clearly was out of place among costumed personalities of the past. Unseasonable 72-degree temperatures made the early part of the history-laden proceedings seem more like a Christmas of South Beach.
Which was fine with 8-year-old Laynie Greene.
“She’s a huge fan of Christmas,” her mom Ashley Harker said. “But she’d always like it to be beach weather.”
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The balmy event, interrupted partly by rain, made quite a splash, according to several volunteers who said this year’s crowd was markedly larger than last year’s.
Some common holiday references slightly missed the mark, such as when attendees sang “The First Noel” at the First Baptist Church live nativity under the shelterhouse. They included the line, “On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.”
They sang “Silent Night,” too, even while a flustered mom hustled away one impatient, wailing youngster. Yet, it was quiet enough for a live baby Jesus named Eli Simmons to angelically sleep through the whole deal, including ignoring a real donkey and two adorable-but-antsy sheep a foot or two away from him amid a makeshift stable.
“No crying he makes,” cracked a smiling Paige Waltz playing Mary.
And the free hot chocolate was hardly the most requested item early on, according to volunteer server Holly Martin. In fact, 20 minutes into the event, there sat Darrell Jessee in a short-sleeved shirt eating ice cream for goodness sakes from Cornett’s Corner Cafe, one of many shops open late for the kickoff of the holidays.
But the surroundings sounded like Christmas, at least. Salvation Army bell ringers heralded the spirit of giving.
A quartet of Hope Moravian Church strolling carolers made everything but the weather beautifully harmonious. Children laughed as they carefully squeezed tubes of icing onto cookies that they decorated at the Yellow Trail Museum.
“This (decorating) seems to get bigger every year,” said volunteer Susan Fye at the museum. “This has not let up or stopped since we started. And kids were lined up to start at 10 minutes after five.”
Twenty minutes early, in other words.
Five-year-old Gidget Bulmer expressed excitement about going to see Santa nearby. Given the relative heat wave, the child saw no need for her knit winter bear cap with the blinking Christmas lights.
“We wore snow boots to this last year,” her mom, Rena Bulmer, said.
Lucas Crowder remembered last year when Cold Man Winter stepped front and center.
“There were times when I could barely feel my fingers,” he said.
He backspaced through his range of past volunteer roles, including that of a shepherd — efforts meant to make Christmas of Yesteryear a warm remembrance for everyone.
“It’s partly for the story of our savior,” Crowder said.
Keep in mind that, in Hope, a town founded by Christian missionary Martin Hauser, the student-led prayer at the Hauser Junior Senior High School commencement still earns a standing ovation every year. And the character of Hauser, portrayed by the Rev. Andy Kilps, cared enough Friday about those spiritual underpinnings to wander away from his history-oriented street spiel near the horse-drawn wagon rides to catch a bit of the live nativity.
And to feel a seasonal warmth beyond the night air.
“This (decorating) seems to get bigger every year. This has not let up or stopped since we started.”
— volunteer Susan Fye